Zelfportret met wintertakken
The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
In this painting, Charley Toorop presents her own face from the front. It virtually fills the whole canvas. On either side she has painted a pattern of white and black lines, which, in combination with the title of the work, evokes an association with bare, snowy branches. It works more as an abstract flat background than as a naturalist spatial environment. The various parts of the face are indicated with sharp outlines. Every line and wrinkle is clearly visible and there is a marked contrast between light and shade. It is as though the subject of the portrait is illuminated by a powerful source of light. She has a penetrating gaze, looking at the viewer (and therefore also at herself while she was painting the portrait) in an inquisitive way. Her hair forms the transition between her face and the background, not only because of the space it takes up, but also because of the way she painted it.
In Charley Toorop’s paintings – especially her portraits – the subject of a head was often shown from the front and filled the entire canvas, which gives the impression of something inescapable. She was interested in the essence of the subjects of her portraits. She preferred to paint people who exuded strength and led an individual life, like she did herself. She did this in an objective way and presented what she saw in a very business-like way. In this respect her work is linked to that of the Neue Sachlichkeit in Germany. In that art movement artists aimed at objectivity, avoiding any form of idealism or sentiment.
In the Netherlands there was a group of artists including Carel Willink and Pyke Koch, who were related to the Neue Sachlichkeit in terms of their style of painting. However, their work had a more singular atmosphere and is therefore described with the term “Magic Realism”. Toorop was also associated with them, although she painted in a less sophisticated style and her work was more expressive. Its strength does not lie in the alienation of Willink’s work, but actually in a raw style devoid of artifice. In that respect her work reveals similarities to Expressionist painters such as Chabot. Although her style of painting maintained a distance, she had a strong social commitment to the people that she painted. She painted portraits of artists, writers and art lovers who were friends (sometimes in groups) and the members of her family, including her father Jan Toorop and her son Edgar Fernhout ,were also the subject of her paintings several times.
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